Good News #2: Non-native NJ wins Akutagawa, Japan’s most coveted book award


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Hi Blog.  Good news.  A NJ (not a Zainichi, which would be good news too, but a non-native NJ to boot) has just won Japan’s most coveted literary award.  Congratulations!
This is not the first time a NJ (or even a non-native) has won a prestigious book award (hark way back to Dave Zopetti’s Subaru-sho). (Japan Times jpg here.)  But it’s the first non-native for an Akutagawa, and that says something positive about Japan’s assimilation.  Well done all around!   Article and interview follow.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo
Chinese novelist Yang wins Akutagawa Prize
Kyodo News/The Japan Times: Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Author Yang Yi won the Akutagawa Prize on Tuesday to become the first Chinese to receive the prestigious literary award, the prize’s organizers said.

News photo
Best book: Chinese writer Yang Yi is all smiles in Tokyo on Tuesday following news that her novel “Tokiga nijimu asa” won the coveted Akutagawa Prize. KYODO PHOTO

The 44-year-old Yang’s award-winning work “Tokiga nijimu asa” (literally, “A Morning When Time Blurs”), written in Japanese, is set during and after China’s democratization movement centering on the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

It follows a Chinese man who lives through those times and later moves to Japan, still holding on to his ideals.

“I’m very, very happy. I feel that I have been accepted,” Yang told reporters outside her Tokyo home.

Meanwhile, the Naoki Prize, a major literature award for popular fiction, went to Areno Inoue, 47, daughter of the late novelist Mitsuharu Inoue.

Inoue’s “Kiriha e” (“To the Mine Face”) is a love story about a teacher who lives with her husband on a remote island.

A previous book by Yang was nominated for the biannual Akutagawa Prize in January but was not chosen.

“I had thought that I may not be chosen this time. I could still not be confident of my own Japanese. Now I feel that I have blended well into Japan, and I am happy that I have been able to write and to have been evaluated,” a smiling Yang said.

She said she learned of the news in a call to her cell phone while having dinner with one of her publisher’s editors.

The Japan Times: Wednesday, July 16, 2008


By TOMOKO OTAKE Japan Times Staff writer

The Japan Times Sunday, Feb. 3, 2008

Unpretentious, hard-working and humble, writer Yang Yi bears more than a passing similarity to the eponymous lead character in her novel “Wang-chan,” titled after the nickname of a Chinese woman who moved to Japan as the bride of a Japanese factory worker and then tried to carve out a career as a marriage broker for other Chinese women seeking to marry Japanese men living out in the sticks.


News photo
Yang Yi laughs during her recent interview with The Japan Times.YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO


In “Wang-chan,” 43-year-old Yang’s first attempt at a Japanese-language novel, first published late last year in a literary magazine, the rural cultures and customs of China and Japan are colorfully contrasted — along with rich and bittersweet interactions between the central character and others, including her dying Japanese mother-in-law and a sex-starved Japanese man in search of a Chinese wife.

The native of Harbin in northeastern China (former Manchuria) caused a sensation in Japan when, in October last year, she won the literary magazine Bungakukai’s prestigious biannual award for new writers. She created even more ripples last month when she became one of the seven nominees for the Akutagawa Award, one of Japan’s most glittering literary accolades.

Although she actually missed out on that top honor, Yang, who teaches Chinese as a day job, was a much talked-about candidate, being the first-ever Chinese to be considered for the highly publicized award. Nonetheless, Yang remains humble about her literary feat, saying she will never become a celebrity novelist. “I am more like a craftsman,” she said when asked about her aspirations as a writer.

Last month, Yang published her first book, titled “Wang-chan,” which comprises that story and “Roshojo (Old Virgin),” another story that is a tragi-comic account of an unmarried Chinese psychology researcher who fantasizes about a romantic relationship with a handsome Japanese professor.

Yang, who is divorced from a Japanese husband and now lives with her teenage son and daughter in Tokyo’s Chuo Ward, recently sat down for an interview with The Japan Times to recount some episodes in her adaptation to life in Japan and how she picked up the language at supermarkets. She also shared her impressions of the enormous changes in people’s values in China these days, along with her take on the often thorny matter of Japan-China relations.

Interview continues at

8 comments on “Good News #2: Non-native NJ wins Akutagawa, Japan’s most coveted book award

  • its about time, hello japan wake up its 2008 not 1908! CONGRADULATIONS..its called globalisation, japan get with the program..i think japan is scared to globalize…

  • Whenever I read I usually go away feeling angry and unhappy with Japan. When I stay away I enjoy life here.

    Two posts on good news is, in my opinion, good for

    Well done Yang Yi and can we have more of these posts?

    –Of course. I was worried that was concentrating too much on the negative, and that’s why I created a special category for those who want the Good News.

    And yes, there’s lots of Good News (as of this morning, there are 43 posts in that category). It’s just that we in the human rights community have to show the problems before we show the solutions–otherwise people don’t appreciate what the Good News is in aid of.

    Sorry if things get depressing–just be aware that the arc of human experience, to paraphrase Gandhi, bends towards justice. But by knowing the injustice we can fight against it better. That’s just the way things work, I’m afraid. Debito

  • Jim is the one who needs to wake up. Yang Yi is the fourth or fifth NJ to win a major literary award in Japan. Two of Japan`s bestselling and most accalimed novelists, Yu Miri and Sogil Yan, are also NJ. Add to that film directors like Yoichi Sai who are NJ and darlings of Japanese critics.

  • Andrew Smallacombe says:

    Somewhere else (sorry, I don’t have an address at this stage) said that Zainichi Koreans have won the award before, this was the first time that a non-native speaker of Japanese has won it.
    Encouraging news.

  • Everyone here should buy the book and send in the comment card saying that you want to see more from this author and more from NJ writing in Japanese.

  • Interestingly, the good governer of Tokyo seems less impressed, describing the novel as “…no more than a kind of novel of manners…”.

    Ishihara dismisses taxi beer furor: ‘I’d have one’
    (Mainichi Japan) July 19, 2008

    Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara played down the recent discovery that metropolitan government employees received cans of beer from cab drivers, saying he’d accept one himself.

    “If a (taxi) driver said ‘You must be tired,’ and offered me a cold one, I’d probably drink it without thinking,” said Ishihara during a regular press meeting on Friday. “Does it matter at all?”

    Ishihara’s remarks came following the news that 29 Tokyo Metropolitan Government bureaucrats had received cans of beer from drivers when using taxi tickets to go home after work during fiscal 2007.

    “If you took money (from a taxi driver) like a kickback, it would be a problem,” said Ishihara. “But it’s not having his taxi fare discounted. It’s just a matter of service and thoughtfulness.”

    Meanwhile, Ishihara snubbed his nose at the recent awarding of the prestigious Akutagawa Prize for literature to a novel written by a Chinese national.

    “It’s no more than a kind of novel of manners,” Ishihara said, referring to the novel, “Toki ga Nijimu Asa” (A morning when time blurs), written by the 44-year-old writer, Yang Yi.




    毎日新聞 2008年7月18日 20時06分(最終更新 7月19日 10時50分)

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    “It’s no more than a kind of novel of manners,” Ishihara said, referring to the novel, “Toki ga Nijimu Asa” (A morning when time blurs), written by the 44-year-old writer, Yang Yi.

    “Manners”? He was much more insulting than this. Doesn’t the “fuuzoku” in 「一種の風俗小説にすぎない」refer to the infamous world of hosts and hostesses?


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